Seeds or starter plants?
By Margie Lachman
Which are best for annuals and vegetables? Seeds are the best value and give more choices. Starter plants are all ready to pop in the ground and start the show with flowers or shorten the time to harvesting vegetables.
Seeds cost less but need more attention. Special soil-less mix is needed for starting them, and they need attention and care before the outside temperature of soil is warm enough for transplanting them. A south facing window or grow lights are needed. Moisture must be constant or tender seedlings will dry up and die.
Some people are talented at starting seeds and hardening them off for a week before planting them outside but, alas, I am not one of them. Generally I prefer waiting to plant seeds outdoors as soon as the weather allows. Marigolds, zinnias, and a few perennials like Liatris spicata grow easily from seed planted outdoors. I have had success with vegetable seeds like peas and carrots in years past. Peas do well when you add a soil inoculant at planting time with nitrogen-fixing bacteria. The peas will be more productive as they absorb nutrients and water better. Carrots and lettuce can be a challenge to germinate because they must be covered with a very thin layer of soil that dries out readily. It helps to cover well-moistened seedbeds with a single sheet of newspaper (black and white only to avoid heavy metals in the dyes from colored pages) and check daily for water needs until leaves appear.
Warm weather vegetables like tomatoes, peppers and eggplants are worth the extra expense of buying starts, as they take longer to produce their fruits. Scouting nurseries starting in early spring will help you find specific cultivars that you like. A generous spade full of compost when planting helps them grow well and resist insects and diseases. Tomatoes can be planted deeply by removing the lowest set of leaves, then setting in the hole so only the top few leaves are above the soil. This encourages more roots to grow from the stem, making the plant stronger. Fish emulsion at half strength can be used to water in all plants to get them growing.
Be sure to plant your vegetables in a different part of the bed each year to avoid diseases. It is easy to rotate plantings by dividing the bed into fourths and using each part for different plants each year. Example: A-tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, squash, melons; B-carrots, beets, radishes, onions; C-beans and peas; D-kale, spinach, cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli. Next year move the B group into the A quadrant. It is easy and very effective. Add some flowers like marigolds, cosmos and sweet alyssum to your vegetable beds to attract bees and other pollinators and you are sure to succeed!
Questions? Email me at email@example.com or call 503-645-2994.